Rucksacks and backpacks are the most comfortable and most practical option for travelling just about anywhere and come in a range of sizes and designs.
The smaller rucksacks are great for day-hikes or sight-seeing, while bigger backpacks are designed to fit tents, sleeping bags and other equipment inside are perfect for those adventurous souls that want to head into the countryside. Unlike standard packs, rucksacks are easy to carry and, if they fit right, which should be one of your primary considerations, put little stress on the shoulders and back.
What is a Rucksack/BackPack?
The term Rucksack/Back Pack has changed over the last few years to mean anything that carries weight on your shoulders. In the past, backpacks were fabric containers that carried loads over 10kg on the shoulders with a hip belt that transferred, leaving the shoulder straps mainly for stabilising the load.
Types of Rucksacks
There are four main types of rucksack; the mini and small rucksacks, daypacks, medium backpacks and large rucksacks. Each varies in size and fit, and you should consider each one carefully before making your choice. Sometimes you’ll need more than one.
- Mini and Small Rucksacks – are 6–10 litres, making them perfect for days out. Inside you can fit a small picnic, some spare clothes and anything small you need for a short trip. They are also ideal as an extra bag to take with you on longer trips. On some of the bigger kits, you can fit a small or mini rucksack on the outside, so it doesn’t take up any room
- Daypacks – If you are going on a day or weekend hike, you should consider buying a daypack. They range from 10 -30 litres and can fit in a sleeping bag, a couple of changes of clothes, a first-aid kit and anything else of the reasonable size you’ll need to make your hike a comfortable experience. They won’t, however, carry a tent. For that, you’ll need something bigger.
- Medium Backpacks – At 30-50 litres, medium backpacks are big enough for longer trips where you’ll need to carry a tent and a sleeping bag. On the outside of the bag, you should find lots of other pockets and fittings where you can fix items like first-aid boxes, pakkas and walkie talkies. If have a lot of things, you may find you can fit all of it into one of the smaller bags in the range, but that you can fit it all into one of the bigger bags. You may even find they work just well for longer hikes as a large rucksack.
- Large Rucksacks – especially those on the higher end, are for those types of people that like to travel the world. They have a capacity of 50 – 80 litres, meaning that you can hold your life in there as you move from country to country. Some even come with a smaller backpack zip fastened to the outside that you can unzip and use for shorter trips. On longer expeditions, experts suggest that should take a bag of 75 litres upwards. If there’s any room left, you can fill up it with anything you buy or collect on the way.
Internal Frames Vs. External Frames
Thirty years ago, backpacks were built with a chunky external frame that helped to position the weight correctly on your back while transferring the load to your hips. Those frames were often made of steel and weighed upwards of five kilos. Yes, they allowed the backpack to be positioned away from your back and therefore stop that sweaty back syndrome that we all suffer from. That said, external frames did have their problems, I always found the position to far outwards meaning that I was continually off balance and ended up leaning the whole time forwards.
When you’re buying a new rucksack, make sure you’re buying one of the latest internal framed, or even frame free rucksacks. The majority of backpacks today are internal-frame packs, meaning the support rods and frame are built into the backpack and hidden from view. Internal frames are either made of carbon or stiff plastic and given they are now internal, they don’t get caught on anything, and your bag will also be slimmer, making moving around easier.
Frameless is an option, however, I would recommend that you only buy frameless backpacks that are less than fifteen litres in size. Much above this, the weight you’re likely to carry on your back increases the point whereby you need the frame to contain the weight and keep it in the right position.
Padding is essential on any backpack, but especially so on the larger, more substantial designs. Typically there are three key areas you need to watch out for when buying a backpack, the hip, the back and most importantly, the shoulders.
- Padded Shoulder Straps – Make sure these are thick and made of a single piece of material; otherwise, it could easily split and leave you with patches of padding. Depending on how tight you wear your hip belt, the shoulders often end up taking most of the weight of your backpack. The padding here helps to keep it comfortable, especially over long hikes.
- Padded Hip Belt – If your hip belt is tight, most of the weight from your backpack will be pushing down on your hips and into your legs. If you get this right, it’s a very comfortable position that keeps the centre of gravity low, and into your body. The problem, with all this weight, it can cause problems very quickly, which is why you need to make sure there is thick padding on the hip belt. This will stop pain points, but also provide support and distribute the load more evenly on your back,
- Back Padding – As we discussed above, the key problem with internal frames is their location close to your back. Sadly no matter how breathable the fabric or whether the manufacturer has designed a ventilation system, the internal frame will not allow you to cool down, and you’re going to end up with a sweaty back. Padding does help this slightly by creating small spaces between your back and the bag which allows airflow. Padding can also help your lumbar support and a more natural arch ensure no back pain
The following accessories will come with most medium and large rucksacks and some smaller ones. Typically the bigger the ruck, the more features it has. The following are the most common rucksack features;
- Side, Hip or Top Pockets – Elasticised side pockets are fantastic for holding water bottles, while zipped pockets on the top or front are great for smartphone, snacks, packets of energy gel, etc.
- Front Pockets – These are stitched on pockets that are intended to hold a snow shovel on many three-season backpacks, however, make great places to store maps, compasses or any other lightweight items.
- Backpacks with Sleeping Bag Compartments – is a great feature to look out for and helps when it comes to finding your sleeping bag after erecting your tent.
- Attachment Point – look for loops that allow you to attach trekking poles to the outside of your pack.
- Most of the best rucksacks will be waterproof, but only to a certain degree and in my experience, this is a light rain shower. If you need to keep the things inside dry, you either need to buy a rain cover or use dry bags inside your rucksack to keep your precious items dry.
- Most large and medium rucksacks will come with a hip belt that you can fasten around your waist to help distribute the weight and stop the backpack from moving about too much. Back and chest straps also help to spread the rucksack’s weight and can be adjusted depending on the length of your body.
- At the top of most bags, you’ll find compression straps. You pull these to tighten the main compartment of your bag and to stop everything inside from moving about as you walk. You can use external clips and hooks on the outside of the bag to attach other things. Make sure they are things that can’t be damaged by the weather such as a Pakka.
- Load Lifter Straps – These are shoulder straps that connect the top of your pack to the shoulder straps and prevent the upper part of your backpack pulling away from your body and causing the bottom part of your pack to dig into your lumbar. Not all rucksack have them, but if you can find a rucksack that does, it’s well worth it.
- Sternum Strap – This mid-chest strap helps to boost backpack stability and stops your pack to shifting abruptly and throwing you off-balance.
How much does a good backpack cost? The honest answer is the sky is the limit. If you go for a brand name such as The North Face and their top model such as the 70L Camping Conness you’ll pay upwards of £400.
Personally, I don’t agree with spending more than £250. The Osprey Aether AG 70 Rucksack only cost 180 for 70 litres, and the Osprey Xenith 105 (M) Rucksack with 105 litres is only 230. Both are fantastic backpacks meaning that if you’re paying anything more, its for the brand name, rather than the actual backpack.
How To Choose The Right Fit
Once you’ve chosen the backpack you want, your next job is to select the right size. Backpacks and rucksacks come in a range of sizes typically from extra-small to extra-large. The right size depends on your torso length, your waist size and your gender.
- Torso Length – You need the backpack to sit comfortably on your shoulders for stability and on your hips for weight control. Your Torso is the distance from your hip shelf to your shoulders. As a general rule;
- Extra Small – 15 Inches
- Small – 16-17
- Medium – 18-20
- Large 20+ Inches
- Waist Size – is very important to get right. With any rucksack, the idea is that the shoulder straps control the weight and the hips support it through the legs. If you cannot do up the waist strap, either because its too tight, or too loose, the weight will all be on your shoulders. Padding will also be a problem, is it’s designed to sit in pain points across your hips. If the strap is too big or too small, the padding will not be in the right place and could cause pain points.
For children or women, due to their smaller size, I would highly recommend that you look at specialist equipment to make sure it all fits correctly.
Buying a backpack is about buying the right backpack for your needs. There no point in buying a 110 Litre monster and then only half filling it for your one-night walk in the countryside. If this is the case, buy a much smaller rucksack, make sure it fits nicely on your back and then you won’t get back and shoulder pain when its sat too low.